Debs Taylor works for South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust as a peer project development worker within the Creative Minds team, one of the five local Realising the Value partner sites.
I was asked if I would do a talk about my experience working with the Realising the Value (RtV) Consortium at the Health and Care Innovation Expo. I had never been before, so was a little apprehensive. As the weeks drew nearer and I saw, on the website, all the amazing speakers that were going to attend, the nerves started to appear. I went through my talk with the RtV team. I told them what I would like to say and they loved the idea and structure of it. This was a huge boost to my confidence knowing they liked what I had planned. They never asked me to change the story (after all, this was my journey) and they even offered me a little more time.
The time came to showcase the RtV programme. Deep breaths and lots of water were in order. I need not have worried at all. From the sound crew to the backstage staff, they were all there to help and assist, making sure all the final touches were in place. I chatted to Carrie Grant (Vocal Coach/TV Presenter) about what I was about to say, she was very nice and reassuring and listened intently to part of my journey.
We were introduced on stage and were directed to our seats. Luckily it was hard to see the audience as the lights were quite bright, but I knew there were lots of people there. I waited, then it was here….. deep breath and off I went….
"Hello my name is Patient number 1095220; this is how I have been known for most of my life having been in the mental health system since I was a young child. It was while I was in crisis (and when we use the term crisis in mental health, I mean the lowest any one person can go) that fortunately I was saved, although I didn’t feel fortunate at the time. I was sat waiting for an assessment and saw a leaflet by Creative Minds, art for wellbeing. I had never done any art before, I don’t know why I picked it up, but 6th December 2011 was the day my life began.
Creative Minds spoke to me, not at me; they asked me, not told me; they listened to me and offered me choices. They involved me with and in things; I soon became a part of the team. It was that team that became partners with Realising the Value, and I have been involved from day one.
So why is RtV so important to me? Well I have been on an incredible journey and I want others to see what the real value is. It's not the thousands of pounds the NHS are saving on my care; yes I am aware that in the climate we are in this is important, but it doesn’t really make much of a difference to me.
So what is the real value?
Well I am no longer classed as a service user; I have been signed out of services for just over a year now.
I am no longer heavily medicated with the serious/horrendous side effects that brings.
I am now off benefits and working again after 14 years. I often smile to myself when I see the ‘professional’ who told me I would always be ill, always be medicated and would never work again… We now work in the same NHS trust!
The real value is that I have had an exhibition at in London; I have sold over 100 paintings.
I do talks about my journey, even to those I have been invisible to, and it was at a talk that I was asked if I would like tea with the Queen. I turned it down as I don’t drink tea and things like that don’t happen to people like me. Well, yes things like that do happen to people like me and it was okay, there was apple juice.
These last four and half years have been amazing. My girls, who were my carers, have transformed themselves too. They have seen what mum can achieve. My daughter said ‘mum, it’s as if you were in there all along’. My eldest has just passed her law degree and my youngest is off to university next week. (I think I will be more upset than she will be).
That’s why RtV is important. I want others to realise the value of lives; I want others to feel this value. I never felt my life had value; I want people to know that all lives have value.
So it is with much joy and pride that I am here today, head held high, and can say ‘Hello, my name is Debs’."
I got rapturous applause and a standing ovation from Carrie Grant. The next presenter from NHS England was a little lost as to how to follow on from that, but she did. My solo part was over. We answered a few questions and then we were allowed to go. Rob Webster (the Chief Executive of the trust I work for) came up and said I was amazing and gave me a hug. Others came up saying how wonderful it had been and how inspiring and insightful they had found it. Carrie Grant hugged me, said it was music to her ears (something I now find quite amusing as she is a vocal coach). She said it was the best talk she had heard all day. I was over the moon. I had done it. I had impressed the ‘big wigs’. Little old me had been there with all those who knew the NHS inside out, who had worked for years in it, as I was just starting my career with it. I had reached another milestone in my journey. PHEW!
More comments and hugs from people about my talk and the way the presentation had flowed so well. How people really understood that the real value is not always something you can physically see, they had actually listened and got it. I felt such an accomplishment. The feedback on twitter was incredible. I was reading the comments out to my partner, who said how proud he was and how amazing I was for doing what I do. I do what I do because I know it makes a difference.